Life Isn’t Fair
Copyright 2006 Beth Ann Fiedler 3/64. All Rights Reserved.
JEREMIAH prophesies in the kingdom of Judah as Jerusalem is being destroyed and God’s people are being carried away in to Babylon because of their sins (see 2 Chronicles 36). It is a time of judgment and of suffering for all the people and for Jeremiah personally. But, Jeremiah also cites God’s promise of restoration after seventy years, assuring the people of a coming new covenant. As you read this book, remember that sin has its consequences but also that through Jesus, your mediator, God’s last word is forgiveness and eternal life”.
-New International Version, The Introduction to the 52 Chapters of the Old Testament Book of Jeremiah-
Sometimes it is hard to submit to a path that is harsh but may ultimately be good for you in the long run. It reminds me of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah had the blessing of the Lord to prophesize that God was displeased with the nation of Israel because they had worshipped other gods and generally led life without regard to God’s wishes. I say the blessing because his spoken words could help Israel to repent and therefore, prevent God’s wrath. In effect, Jeremiah was asked to bring the Houses of Israel and Judah back into obedience. Historically speaking, they chose not to listen to the plea of God through the prophet and instead a vast majority of them ended up killed. However, some chose to escape and serve the rival King of Babylon—Nebuchadnezzar. Ok, that brings us to about Chapter 23. (Did I mention that I may have to condense this topic a bit?)
Three things I found curious in the Book of Jeremiah up to that point. The first curiosity was what did Jeremiah convey to the people of Israel that was so hard for them to do to please God and make amends? The second curiosity was who would think that a way to save a remnant of Israel was through obedience to a rival king? The third curiosity was when I came to Chapter 22, God called the king of the people of Israel to the carpet and rebuked him for dishonest gain. I mean, if God put the king of the people of Israel in power, shouldn’t he think that he could run the people like he wanted?
I seem to have an inkling to answer in the reverse order. So first, the third curiosity. The prophet Jeremiah said in Jeremiah 22: 13-17 that there was “Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his countrymen work for nothing, not paying them for their labor”. WOE is right. In other words, God never put leaders into their positions to use those who serve them for any reason. I mean, if “Life isn’t Fair”, then it was not God’s idea to make it that way.
Here is the answer to number two. Jeremiah told the people that they were given a choice between a way of life and one of death (Jeremiah 21:8). If the people chose to stay in Judah, they were told that they would die a horrible death. Somehow this seems counter-intuitive because you would think that the Lord would want His people to be loyal to the leader, in this case the king of Judah, that He had placed on the throne. But instead, whoever surrendered to the Babylonian King would live (Jeremiah 20:9) and whoever stayed loyal to the king would not. God Himself warned his own people that He was going to destroy His city and turn it over to the king of Babylon for complete destruction. In fact, after the Lord had determined that no one was upright in His city as detailed in Chapter 5, Jeremiah prophesized about the choice that the people in God’s city would have to make in a section about the crossroads in Jeremiah 6:16. So the Lord through Jeremiah, sent very clear warnings for many years.
In answer to the first part of my query, the Lord asked the House of Judah the following things listed in Jeremiah 21:11:
“Administer justice every morning:
rescue from the hand of his oppressor
the one who has been robbed…”
In brief, He told the king of the House of Judah to what—be fair??? Is that it? That was the thing that the king could not do in order to save his own kingdom and the favor of God for himself and his God-given people? How often in this world do you hear the cliché’ that “life isn’t fair” in answer to some injustice that seemingly no one had a choice to correct? But if we are careful to really think things through, we may find that injustice was the choice someone made for us through an authority that had forgotten to be fair, just like the king of Judah who lost everything as a result.
I need a moment to absorb that one. But, I will dredge on. In Jeremiah 22, the King of Judah hears these more detailed words from the prophet, apparently just in case it was not clear all the times before.
Jeremiah 22:3 “Do what is just and right.
He repeats, “Rescue from the hand of his
oppressor the one who has been robbed.”
“Do no wrong or violence to the alien,
the fatherless or the widow, and do
not shed blood in this place.”
By God Himself, he promised that if they carried out these commands that the kings who then sat on the throne of David through the House of Judah would not come to an end. But instead, they held on to their “authority” and chose to accept His promise that if they disobeyed, they would become a ruin.
The Lord loved His chosen people of Israel but being the Lord, He could not allow their continued disobedience and he was especially harsh towards those He had blessed with the most power. As the story continues to unfold, only those who were willing to surrender and serve the King of Babylon by order of God, were saved by surrender from the wrath of God. By the account of Jeremiah, God considered those who went to Babylon “good figs” in Jeremiah 24:4-10 and destroyed the line of kings from the tribe of Judah. For 70 years, the people of Israel served the King of Babylon as exiles. They were ordered through prophecy to increase, seek peace and prosper (Jeremiah 29:6-7). The Lord even asked that they pray for the prosperity of the city of Babylon because the people of Israel would prosper in direct proportion to their captors.
The remnant waited, obeyed and were eventually restored as shown in Chapter 30 in the Book of Jeremiah. Yet, they only escaped with their lives, which seems quite a ‘small’ reward when you consider what they were forced to leave behind. Yet, it was the greatest reward because it provided hope for their future and the continued blessing of the Lord. Further, the Lord did not forget what Babylon had done to Israel and made Babylon a wasteland after God had used it to help to punish His own people. The Lord handed His nation to them and the Babylonians were irreverent—smug even, to see the suffering of the people of Israel (Jeremiah 50:6-7). But, they did not understand that God also watched how Babylon treated His people and after His people were brought out of captivity, the sword of God was drawn against Babylon.
Is it really so hard for kings to be fair, to exact justice and to so honor the position that they were given? Is it really so hard to recognize that mercy exacted when you are “Top Dog” might have saved your own people? Is it really so hard to recognize that when the life of another is placed into your hands, it is better to encourage them through their sorrows than to laugh at their fallen state? Are we any different so many thousands of years later when we answer injustice with, “Life isn’t fair”?
What is most disturbing to me is that I personally do not know if I would have been able to just leave my home and serve an alien king. I am sure that I would have wondered if it were some trick by the king of Judah to cause me harm. Or, perhaps the prophecy was a tactic to weed out those who were loyal to him and those who were not. It is not difficult to make this leap, especially given the documented fact that the present king of Judah was prone to dishonest gain and usury of his own people. That is why I cannot personally be that hard on the people of Israel and it is also why that I think that the Lord had no choice but to remove them from their land and the corruption of their king, even if that meant exile and loyalty to a rival king. But, it is a lesson that I struggle with since I also have the added knowledge of reading the New Testament Book of Ephesians.
In the Book of Ephesians, primarily in Chapters 5-6, the Apostle Paul discusses the issue of how our service under leadership represents how we serve Christ who is the head of all. I confess, I do not always like authority or the methods that they use. But, in the spirit of serving those God has placed ahead of me—even in service to rival kings, it is clear that honoring them as your masters works to the better good of my ultimate service to my professed Lord. I have thought for many years that this contradicts the ‘older’ lessons in the Bible regarding leadership. But, I have grown to understand this seemingly subtle rock on the face of the mountain---it is good to serve the king, but always under the all-guiding spirit of the King. Most people have heard the phrase “Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's."
It is a most memorable phrase in Mark 12:17 and had added a bit more to meshing my beliefs with modern methods of authority.
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.” --Ephesians 5:5-9
We are all slaves to some one or some thing. We are all masters to some one or some thing. We will always find ourselves in a position to decide between available options-some we will like and some we won’t like. And, we are all faced with the same question of first whether we will serve, second who we will serve, and third, how we will serve-even if the master is not one we would like to have. We must all recognize that sometimes we are placed in difficult “Life isn’t fair” situations for reasons presently beyond our understanding. And sometimes our leaders are given the power to correct those “Life isn’t fair” decisions for reasons that may be beyond their understanding, too.
So given these unknown factors in life and our own propensities, may we instead choose to serve under the watchful hand of God. May we care for those who are less fortunate and never use them during their struggle for their own freedom. May we find a way to make life fair, even amongst the abundance of atrocities and unfairness in this fallen world. If we find ourselves in the position of authority, may we remind ourselves to be fair and to bathe our servants in prayer. May we also remember that if we are in a position where our master has done us harm, take peace in the fact that both slaves and masters are held accountable.
Serve well-increase, seek peace and prosper. Pray for the prosperity of your captors/masters, so that you may prosper in their service to the Glory of God.